“Never Again” Means For Everyone

By Mitchell Plitnick
Cross-posted at The Third Way, JVP’s policy analysis blog.

In one of the most bizarre and appalling developments here in the US, a number of Jewish groups are pressing Congress not to recognize the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century. They are opposing bills in both the House and Senate that would formally recognize it.

It’s hard to imagine the cynicism and hypocrisy that this act embodies. Of all people, we Jews have, rightly, pushed the world to acknowledge horrific acts of genocide, to mark them, try to prevent them and to raise our voices loudly in the cry of “Never Again.”

The four Jewish groups that presented the case to Congress, on behalf of the Turkish Jewish community, were the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), B’Nai Brith, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

That JINSA would engage in this is not surprising. A Jewish group in name only, JINSA is a right-wing propaganda machine that has pushed the worst excesses of both the Bush Administration and the Israeli right for years, with no regard for human rights or the welfare of innocents, in Israel or elsewhere. Of the other three groups, it is fair to expect much better than this.

The groups are concerned about Turkey’s standing in world opinion, but frankly the concern is overblown. Outside of Turkey, few believe that the massacre of Armenians during the reign of the Young Turks as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling under the weight of World War I was not a genocide. Official declarations of genocide have been made by most European countries, 40 out of the 50 United States of America, Russia and many other countries. Those that have not made formal recognition have often made it clear that politics, rather than a true disagreement with the characterization, has been the reason. Germany, for instance, passed a resolution that “honors and commemorates the victims of violence, murder and expulsion among the Armenian people before and during the First World War”. The German resolution mentions that “many independent historians, parliaments and international organizations describe the expulsion and annihilation of the Armenians as genocide.”

Iran does not formally recognize the Armenian genocide, but in 2004, their president, Mohammed Khatami, visited a memorial to the genocide. And so on.

Israel does not recognize the Armenian genocide and this has occasionally caused controversy in Israeli society. Again, few Israelis would deny the genocide, but Turkey is one of Israel’s few allies, and a Muslim country at that, so they are not willing to rock the boat.

These are the considerations, of course, that motivate American Jewish groups to oppose Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide. And they are, plain and simple, the wrong considerations.

It’s objectionable enough that Israel, the Jewish State, downplays and withholds recognition of the Armenian genocide. But in Israel’s case, they are an embattled country with few true allies, and Turkey is not only one of them, it is the only full ally of Israel in the region and in the Muslim world. That doesn’t excuse Israel’s stance, but the circumstances at least provide a rationale, and one that is understandable if not acceptable.

But the US has no such concern. It’s not like Turkey can afford to rend its relationship with the United States over a Congressional declaration that would change little, as most of the US already recognizes the genocide. And it is even less a concern for American Jews, who should be the first to hold this principle above all others.

The hypocrisy becomes even clearer when we examine a separate statement by the ADL and JINSA where they state that legislators should not take a position on such matters.

One has to ask, would the ADL stake out the same position on the Shoah? Does it matter to them that they just provided an argument to Holocaust-deniers? Or did they not even bother to think it through that far?

In any case, it is worth noting that many Jewish groups do not share this stance and that many of the proposed bill to recognize the Armenian genocide are Jewish. The Progressive Jewish Alliance, in fact, published an op-ed in the LA Times decrying the actions of these four groups.

As Jews, we rightly say “Never Again.” But what does the phrase mean if it doesn’t apply to everyone?